4 Reasons to Keep Laughing (Instead of Crying)
Humor is a powerful and overlooked tool for coping with today’s challenges.
Posted Sep 04, 2020
This post was written by John Bouras, M.D.
People all over the world have been affected by COVID-19 in some way. Our normal routines have been shattered. Washing our hands, keeping a safe physical distance, and worrying about contracting or spreading the virus is our new norm.
There are people amongst us who have lost their jobs and incomes, and unfortunately for some, their loved ones. Humor or laughter is probably the last thing on their mind.
So, this begs the question: During these difficult and challenging times, is it OK to laugh?
Absolutely! As a psychiatrist who works with patients and who has personally experienced traumatic events, I actively look for opportunities to interject appropriate humor into daily life. Consider these four ways that humor can be a powerful and effective tool in coping with today’s challenges.
1. Social Benefits and Connectedness
We are all social beings. Our ability to connect with one another ensured our survival, from an evolutionary perspective. Social isolation due to “stay-at-home orders” has resulted in many people feeling lonely and alone. This is especially hard for individuals with pre-existing mental health issues.
With technology, though, we can try to “virtually” connect with one another. When we share, we feel accepted and connected to one another. We can share a funny video or story, humorous anecdotes, and smiles. I remember when someone shared with me the image of someone holding a bouquet made out of toilet paper, rather than flowers, poking fun at the amount of toilet paper people were buying.
2. Stress Reduction and Physical Health Benefits
We all know that stress is hazardous to our health. It may lead to cardiovascular problems, such as hypertension and heart attacks, and mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Numerous studies show the benefits of laughter in combating stress. Laughter reduces physical tension and stress by relaxing our muscles, as well as decreasing levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
For individuals with underlying medical conditions, humor and laughter may provide some extra protection. By dilating blood vessels, it lowers blood pressure, reducing the risk for heart attacks and strokes. Our immune system also gets a boost by increasing the production of T cells ready to fight infections. A 15-year follow-up study from Norway showed the death rates from infection were actually lower in patients who utilized humor. Even though not a replacement for physical exercise, when I laugh extra hard, I feel as if I just had an abdominal muscle workout!
3. Psychological Health Benefits
We are creatures of habit and routine. With COVID-19, we had to change our daily activities almost overnight. With schools closed and more people staying at home (either losing their job or working from home), we see more couples and families spending time together at home, longer than ever before. Imagine any family conflict during Thanksgiving, only amplified many times more. We are prone to negativity and secondary traumatic stress symptoms.
Keeping a lighthearted approach to life serves a protective function. It helps us broaden our mind and put things into perspective. It helps us view adversity as an opportunity to reevaluate our priorities in life. We can appreciate being able to spend more time with family, having less traffic on the roads (while it lasts), and taking on old or new hobbies and activities.
4. Happiness Promotion
How we choose to respond to the world can determine our degree of happiness. Humor seems to demonstrate how “happiness comes from within.” Multiple studies have shown that adults who use certain styles of humor tend to be happier.
In particular, affiliative humor makes us more empathetic while enriching the quality of our social relationships. Self-enhancing humor helps us maintain or enhance our positive psychological well-being while distancing ourselves from adversity. It helps us manage reality by reflecting and responding to threats rather than feeling utterly out of control. Sharing humor is, in some ways, akin to sharing happiness.
Humor Is No Laughing Matter
It is no wonder that we keep on watching funny TV shows or movies, stand-up comedians, and late-night political satire. It makes us feel better. With all the evidence on how humor can be beneficial, a more appropriate question then is not, “Is it OK to laugh?” but instead, “What are you waiting for?”
About the Author:
Dr. John Bouras is a psychiatrist at The Menninger Clinic. His expertise is in adult psychiatry, with special expertise in transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy (TMS). He has presented on topics such as TMS, depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and aging.